We don't have the opportunity to talk with the WSU players after practice on Thursdays, so our post this evening won't include their thoughts. However, we had a chance to talk with coach Paul Wulff for a while, so we have that. And we talked with basketball coach Ken Bone this morning, so we have that as well. Read on.
• We're going to start with football. After all, the season kicks off Saturday with the Pac-10 opener against Stanford. And the Cougars starting lineup not only will feature two true freshmen (see the previous post) but also some changes from earlier in the week. ... On the defensive side of the ball, junior college transfer Josh Luapo has asserted himself at defensive tackle and the 6-foot, 321-pounder will start next to another JC transfer Bernard Wolfgramm. Toby Turpin, who played well at the end of last season and was listed as the starter earlier, has dropped on the depth chart. I've been told Turpin will play but his effort at practice has cost him the starting spot. ... For most of the past couple weeks it looked like the coaches were trying to decide between Alex Hoffman-Ellis (slowed by a foot problem) and freshman Darren Markle. But this week sophomore Louis Bland was given a shot and he's won the job. Hoffman-Ellis will back Bland up and Markle? Wulff said today the plan now is to hold Markle out of the first couple games – he was taken off the special teams he was on – in an attempt to get him a redshirt year. Unless someone is hurt, Markle will not play this year. ... The official starting lineup in the secondary stays the same, but Chima Nwachukwu has been working all week at both cornerback – he played there as a freshman – and safety – where he played last season. If Nwachukwu starts at safety, either Daniel Simmons or Aire Justin will play corner. If Nwachukwu plays corner, LeAndre Daniels will be at safety. You'll probably see both alignments Saturday. ... Speaking of defensive backs, redshirt freshman Terrance Hayward returned to practice after a bout with the flu. He also was not in a yellow (non-contact) jersey for the first time this year. ...
The offensive side of the ball is a little more settled, though Kevin Norrell's loss of practice time this week (flu) has necessitated a change. Wulff said Jeshua Anderson will start in Norrell's spot, though Norrell might play some, especially returning kicks. ... Though Dwight Tardy will start, James Montgomery looks pretty well recovered from his knee strain and should be able to get his carries. ... Finally, Nico Grasu ended Thursday's practice with a series of field goal attempts from 37 and 47 yards. He made more than half of them, including one that would have been good from 55 yards.
• One last football note. Wulff was asked what he knew about Stanford's starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Andrew Luck. The WSU coach admitted they didn't know a lot, but they expected him to be physical, considering his size (6-4, 235), and to be able to run the ball as well as pass it. But Wulff doesn't expect him to get rattled easily. "I know he grew up in a football family and he's been around it a long time," Wulff said. "And so I'm pretty sure he's not going to be your typical redshirt freshman coming in starting his first college game. He'll probably have a lot more savvy and self-confidence than the average player at that age would."
• Now to basketball. I sat down early this morning with coach Ken Bone in his office. I wanted to see how he felt about the WSU players now that he's been able to spend a few – and only a few – hours in the gym with them. I wasn't looking for a full-fledged season preview – there's time enough for that – but more for his first impressions of each individual. So we went down the roster, me naming a player and he commenting. Simple. What follows is a list of the guys, my summary of what he said and a quote from Bone. By the way, we went numerically, if you're wondering.
0 Marcus Capers: Calling the sophomore long and lanky, Bone praised his quickness and his ability to get to the rim. "He has a nice presence on the defensive end."
1 Klay Thompson: Bone expects Thompson to widen his offensive repertoire this, his second collegiate season, including adding a post-up element to his game. He also believes Thompson will get to the free throw line more often this year. Thompson will also be called on to help with the rebounding and could be one of the Cougars best, according to Bone. "He has a great knack at putting the ball in the basket."
2 Anthony Brown: Loves the way the freshman practices. Thinks he use his body well and plays physical. "I love his work ethic."
3 Reggie Moore: The freshman is quick and can score in a number of ways. "He's just one of those guys you put him out there and he makes things happen. Hopefully more good things than bad, but he makes things happen."
4 Nik Koprivica: The team's only senior – and upperclassman – will be looked to to provide leadership. Bone expects him to have a good senior year. "He's been here, he's been in the trenches a few years and he knows what it's about."
11 Xavier Thames: Another player Bone feels has a defensive presence and does a decent job of penetrating to the basket. "Xavier has a nice body for a freshman. He gives us a big guard."
12 Brock Motum: The freshman from Australia needs to build strength, Bone said. He also feels Motum has a ways to go with some things to learn. "He's skilled and does a good job getting to the rim."
13 Steven Bjornstad: A late get for the Cougars, the big (6-10, 217-pound) freshman filled a glaring need (see last comments). But Bjornstad doesn't elevate real well and his foot speed needs to improve. Bone said he's an intelligent player with nice touch on his shot. He also compared him to Baynes as a freshman. "He has a nice big frame … but he's got a ways to go."
14 James Watson: The redshirt freshman came close to having to give up basketball after being diagnosed with a heart condition. But further tests have cleared him to participate. Got back this week and has spent about 40 minutes in the gym. He has the potential to be a good player, Bone said. "James is just a mystery. … He appears to be a good athlete who is just totally raw."
20 John Allen: Another redshirt freshman, the walk on missed much of last season with back problems. "He's a competitor and a good shooter."
22 Ben Loewen: Another walk-on, the junior has been out during the late summer with a knee injury. "In the spring Ben showed ... he's a good shooter, he's a competitor and he's quick."
23 DeAngelo Casto: Bone sees the sophomore as a good defender with a chance to be a "great" rebounder. "Big, strong, athletic. Runs the floor extremely well."
30 Mike Harthun: Of all the players, Bone seems most excited by the improvements made by this sophomore. "He's come back in great shape, he's shooting the ball well and playing with a lot of confidence."
31 Abe Lodwick: The sophomore has gotten stronger and will be called upon to defend bigger players. And Bone added, though the stats didn't show it last year, he believes Lodwick is a sold shooter. "I love his work ethic and the leadership he provides."
40 Charlie Enquist: The 6-10 sophomore is another pleasant surprise for Bone. A hard worker, he competes on the glass and Bone feels Enquist has improved. "For a big kid he's real bouncy."
44 Austin Bragg: Another walk-on, he's quite light (6-8, 182) but a raw talent. "Like a good walk on does, he brings his best every day."
The team as a whole: "Young and we need physical strength," Bone said. "But a nice group of kids. We enjoy working with them on the floor."
• And that's what we talked about today. As the preseason drills continue, we'll try to get with coach Bone or one of the assistants to touch on other aspects of the team's progress. It was easy to tell today the lack of upperclassmen and, even more importantly, the lack of size, weights heavily on Bone. This is a group that's going to have to rebound by committee and defend inside with quickness, not bulk. But that's for another day. For now, he's getting to know his players in the limited time the NCAA allows before practice officially opens.
• That's it for tonight. We'll be back tomorrow morning with our usual links. Until then …